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Now, safety is just a click away

| | in Agenda
Now, safety is just a click away

Social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter, and mobile apps have been making the world safer for women. ANANYA BORGOHAIN explains how

In a month, it will be three years since one of the most brutal rape cases gripped the conscience of Delhi, and its ripples blew across the globe as well. The December 16 Delhi gangrape case was not the first and unfortunately, it was not the last either.

Gender insensitivity and sexual violence still dominate the social rhetoric of the country. However, what seems like some relief is the assurance technology has been offering. Of late, attention has been drawn by certain incidents that could have ended in travesty but were thankfully restored owing to the power of social media and the reliability of mobile apps.

In August this year, a helpless Dev Tamboli tweeted to the Ministry of External Affairs alleging that his sister was duped with the lures of a job in UAE and was held captive and even assaulted by traffickers there. Some hours later, Sushma Swaraj responded to him saying that the police in Al Ain, authorities at the Indian embassy and some Indian community politicians there have managed to rescue the girl. In September, journalists from Khabar Lahariya, a women-only publication based at Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, complained about being stalked by a man who threatened them for months until an online magazine tweeted their story. Very promptly, the police, who had been reckless with the original complainants managed to nab the culprit following the outburst of activists, journalists and users of social media. Not too long ago again, an old typist named Krishna Kumar came into public attention when a brash sub-inspector broke his typewriter and kicked him, and a photojournalist who captured the incident through his lens posted the images on Facebook and they went viral. Within a day, the UP CMO’s Social Media Department took notice of it and the district magistrate and police chief visited Kumar and gifted him two new typewriters and some money. Then there was also the time when a girl sent her brother images of three drunk co-passengers harassing her on the Bengaluru-Patna Sanghmitra train, which he tweeted to the Railway Ministry and the men were quickly arrested. 

When used correctly, the power of social media could do wonders. But when it is not convenient to type on online forums and wait for responses, there are quicker ways to ask for help. A number of android applications have been launched to ensure the safety of users. For instance, Delhi Police’s Himmat app allows smartphone users to call the police control room and also trigger a 30-second audio and video recording at the press of the phone’s power button, which will send SOS messages to five numbers stored as emergency contacts. SOS Stay Safe users on the other hand, need to shake the device twice using a customisable shake limit and alerts will be issued to their assigned contacts.  Created by Star India, V Gumrah’s VithU app has been downloaded by half a million people. It is initiated by clicking the power button twice and the alert messages are sent every two minutes to the contacts the user has listed. However, this app is available only on high-end androids and not on low to mid level smartphones. Other than these, there are also apps like Nirbhaya, named after the victim in the December 16 case or Women Safety Shield Protection, and many more.

Campaign Safecity started three years ago for women to share their encounters with sexual harassment but today has a benchmark of 6,000 stories shared from numerous cities in India as well as from countries like Kenya and Nepal. They have now collaborated with Twitter to help women in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa, with the help of police forces in those regions. Users can tweet to @SafecityIndia, use the hashtag #SafecityIndia hashtag and even personally message their stories if they wish to maintain anonymity.

Not only does it give the women a voice to share their stories but also serves as resource material for law enforcement officers and active volunteers to brainstorm timely measures. The campaign also intends to mark the hotspots on an online map to alert the layman and authorities alike about sensitive areas that may have anti-social elements. The campaign recently highlighted two hotspots at Lal Kuan in Delhi where men had been intimidating women at a tea stall. What followed was a mural that the women created on the wall near the stall, painting a pair of eyes and writing empowering messages. Consequently, the harassment is said to have stopped. Local leaders and municipality authorities were also approached to let the toilets be open to women at another hotspot in the area where women were facing regular inconvenience from men.

The campaign’s managing director Elsa D’Silva and Twitter’s partnerships manager, Pratiksha Rao, had both reiterated in the past that they intend to create an ambience wherein women alert others even after complaints have been made and action has been taken. They also collaborate with an NGO and local authorities to make it a safer place to live in. Not only that, many men and young boys have volunteered to join them in the pursuit.

While the availability of these applications and social media forums have been a possibility for a long time, many people still have not installed them. Unfortunately, many are also unable to afford smartphones with GPS services. While it is highly advisable for women to install the safety apps, one can only hope that the lot that financially struggles to buy technologically enhanced phones also finds a way to use them.




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